Napoleonic War of 1812

Battle of Bladensburg 1814

Americans were defeated at Battle of Bladensburg in 1814, British soldiers set fire to the White House in Washington during the War of 1812.

Before the Battle of Bladensburg, Major-General Robert Ross’s troops landed at Benedict in Maryland, along the Patuxent River on 19th August 1814. They began to March along the river Upper Marlboro.

22nd August 1814, Commodore Joshua Barney of the American fleet was ordered to destroy the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla. It was to stop it falling into the hands of the British. Commodore Barney destroyed 15 of his gunboats and other small boats, then retreated towards Washington.

The Americans had left Washington unfortified, they thought the advancing British would attack Baltimore. General William H. Winder had around 1,600 men under his command, most of them were near Baltimore. Once Major-General Ross’s and his troops had reached Upper Marlboro, they then headed towards Bladensburg.

23rd August 1814, General Winder moved his troops into Washington. The previous day the population had started to move out of the Capital. President James Madison and his cabinet remained.

1,450 local militia joined Commodore Barney’s 400 sailors. Additionally, General Tobias Stansbury also had 420 regular soldiers. They took up a defensive position on the western bank of the East Branch River.

Battle of Bladensburg

24th August 1814, the Secretary of State James Monroe arrived with 5,000 militia. General Winder had arrived with his 1,600 men.

Major-General Ross arrived with his 2,600 battle experienced British troops. He described the Americans as “strongly posed on very commanding heights, formed into two lines”. Artillery covered the bridge crossing on the East Branch River.

the battle of bladensburg
The Battle of Bladensburg, by Richard Schlecht

The British attacked over the bridge against the unexperienced militia troops. The militia abandoned the field in panic when Congreve Rockets fired upon them. Commodore Barney’s sailors fought until they got outflanked. He then gave the orders to retreat, he was badly wounded during the fighting.

A British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg, it had come at a cost of 64 killed, and 185 wounded. The Americans had 26 killed with 51 wounded.

Burning of Washington

President Madison had a report that the British troops were on their way to Washington. President Madison, his cabinet, and remaining troops fled the Capital into the surrounding countryside.

Once Major-General Ross and his troops had entered Washington, they headed towards the Presidential Mansion (White House). The southern wing of the building was set on fire. The fire quickly spread to the Library of Congress in the northern wing, the contents fuelled the fire. The wooden ceilings and floors burnt, and the glass skylights melted with the intense heat.

burning of washington, 1814
Burning of Washington, 1814 – painted by Paul de Thoyras

The British troops set alight the Treasury, War Office, and other facilities of the U.S. government within the Capital. This act was in retaliation to when the American Troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John B. Campbell captured Port Dover in Upper Canada, and burnt the parliament buildings, Government House, and private houses.

26th August 1814, after seizing large quantities of munitions, Major-General Ross ordered a withdrawal from Washington. He began the long march back to their ships.